Experiential learning is the process of learning by doing and then reflecting on the experience. It is a teaching philosophy that informs many different methods for learning that combine “direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values and develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.”¹ Experiential education is the driving force behind most college and applied undergraduate programs, and the conceptual basis for case-based teaching and learning.
Experiential learning (EXL) goes far beyond “hands-on learning”. First, EXL attempts to create an experience of challenge to the learning. Second, because the learning doesn’t stop when the task is complete, students are guided to deliberately observe and reflect on what they have experienced. Reflection is essential to achieving positive results. Repeated experiences help students build abstract concepts and theories about what is effective. Finally, armed with this insight, students have the opportunity to apply their learning to the life they live. Each new experience continues this cycle of learning.
Case-based learning follows this process exactly. Written cases are tangible examples of real problems faced by real people in real organizations. They are the closest possible representation of an actual problem to solve or decision to make. Students read the case, examine the possibilities with their peers, and debate the alternatives and recommendations in a spirit of exploration. Repeated case challenges helps students master problem-solving techniques, and reflection at the end of a class or course help students consolidate their learning. As a result, students are able to apply these problem-solving and decision-making skills in co-op work environments, assignments in service to community organizations, or other project assignments.
In effect, case-based experiential learning is the closest thing to learning about real businesses without leaving the classroom. Rather than being passive recipients of teaching, students actively engage with the case, their peers, and their facilitator. Because the experience can be so real and personally meaningful, the case-based approach makes the learning a rich combination of personality and emotion as well as thinking and cognition. Learners must take initiative to grasp the material and its underlying importance; they learn to be curious about the situation, which triggers creativity, experimentation and problem-solving. Students are engaged intellectually, but also emotionally, socially and even physically (in the form of making a class presentation). The depth of the experience also encourages students to encounter other points of view, examine their biases, and clarify their values. In the end, learning becomes personal, enduring and profound.
In Perspective fuels case-based experiential learning by providing current, relevant and academically sound cases for instructors who teach with cases. Our cases are carefully written and edited to be readable, interesting, and focused on the practical problems of organizations.